California born and bred, now entrenched in Philadelphia, the playwright-director John Rosenberg debuts his latest work Queen Of All Weapons this Saturday at 2pm at the Papermill Theater (2528 Ormes Street) in Kensington. I first met John about a year ago at a play reading of his I hosted at the Walking Fish Theatre, a bunch of strange, brutal, and funny shorts that would later appear in his 2010 Philly Fringe show Cheap Guy Hall of Fame. I later cast John in my Christmas showMerry Fucking Christmas, in which he excelled at being creepy, and had no fear of cajoling the audience to say, “I love Al Qaida” in order to win a donated trip to Miami that did not actually exist. This past winter, also at the Papermill, which John runs, he presented California Redemption Value, an autobiographical full-length about his drama-teacher mother, and the needy castaway drama students she supports under her roof in Los Angeles.
Queen Of All Weapons is quite a different play. Set in the 70s, it concerns a German terrorist (Anna Watson) who comes to San Francisco and teams up with members (James Tolbert, Sebastian Cummings) of a fading Black Panther movement to defeat capitalist scum. I caught up with John to get the lowdown.
Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority: Your new play Queen Of All Weaponsopens this Saturday July 9th (at 2pm), can you tell me about how this show came about?
John Rosenberg: I met Anna Watson in your Christmas show [Merry Fucking Christmas, SmokeyScout Productions]. She is German and fearless. I asked her if she wanted to be in a play I was writing which I had not written and she said yes. Then I had to write a play starring her. I had never written a show built around an actor and it was a great experience. We would sit in her apt and talk about Germany, a subject I didn’t know anything about.
PPAA: What was it that having a Nazi anarchist revitalize the dying 70s San-Fran Black Panther movement that appealed to you?
JR: I don’t know shit about Germans or black people outside of the racist shit tv and America inculcated me with so I thought it would be great to write a play about people I didn’t know about.
As for time period, I didn’t know anything about the time around I was born (1976) and wanted to ground a story there. I always hated the 70s when I was a kid because I was dumb. When you get older and start linking generations you see the crazy shit that happened. The time after the great social upheavals of the late 60s and 70s and what became of that movement is fascinating to me and tragic and that is where I wanted to set the play.
This is a play about things I know nothing about.
PPAA: Why have set the play in San Francisco?
JR: Well, I miss California and don’t know shit about out here. And a way to be closer to there is to write a play about it. As for the subject matter, I went to school at Berkeley. I knew people who were involved in protest movements whist I was getting high. It is amazing to think that people put themselves on the line for something larger their selves.
PPAA: Have you written plays for specific actors before?
JR: No, but I like it. I see a future in writing scripts around actors. It is fantastic. I want to forever now write plays around specific actors.
PPAA: Since you were writing this play even as you had begun rehearsals, how much of the rehearsal process influenced the writing of the play, or was it completely separate?
JR: Everyone has a way, but I wrote this and then when rehearsals started shit change based off the actors. Nothing is worse than watching actors uncomfortable saying shit.
PPAA: What did you enjoy most about writing this play?
JR: The actors making the play their own .
PPAA: Who are your actors? I understand they all have German connections.
JR: Anna Watson. She is from Germany. James Tolbert who starred in Starlight Express the musical in the early 90s in Germany. Sebastian Cummings who was born on a military base in Germany. All three of them were in Germany at the same time. Freaky as fuck.
PPAA: What’s the week like before opening a show?
JR: It is always different. This time, it is drunk on Yuengling. Haha. It is 3am right now and we had a party and I am watching Golden Girls while working on this.
PPAA: Is Queen Of All Weapons family-friendly?
Thanks John, and see you at the opening!
Queen of All Weapons
Written and Directed by John Rosenberg
Featuring James Tolbert, Sebastian Cummings, and Anna Watson
July 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24, 30 + 31 at 2pm
2528 Ormes Street $10
For tickets and more information go to queenofallweapons.com.
Published by the Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority.